What is Coca-Cola's Tab? Company cans diet soda, Internet cries ‘thought they stopped making it 50 years ago’

Coca-Cola's first diet drink, it was originally marketed to people who wanted to keep a 'tab' on their weight


                            What is Coca-Cola's Tab? Company cans diet soda, Internet cries ‘thought they stopped making it 50 years ago’
Tab by The Coca-Cola Company (Getty Images)

The Coca-Cola Company announced that the production of Tab (stylized as TaB), its first diet soft drink, will be ceased for good after an impressive and iconic run of 57 years. "We're forever grateful to Tab for paving the way for the diets and lights category, and to the legion of Tab lovers who have embraced the brand for nearly six decades," said Coca-Cola group director Kerri Kopp in a statement. "If not for Tab, we wouldn’t have Diet Coke or Coke Zero Sugar."

Talking about the decision to cease production of Tab, Brad Spickert, Coca-Cola's senior vice president of innovation and commercialization, said "This is not a bottom-line efficiency play, It’s a top-line growth play." Similarly, Robert L Bixby, executive director at Concord Coalition, said, "Tab had an amazing run. As a business decision, I can understand it, but it’s a very sad day...I do feel it’s like losing a friend."

What was TaB?

Tab, created and produced by The Coca-Cola Company, was introduced in 1963 as a diet cola soft drink. Coca-Cola's first diet drink, it was originally marketed to people who wanted to keep a 'tab' on their weight. Popular throughout the 1960s and 70s, several Tab variations were produced which included fruit-flavored, root beer and ginger ale versions. Later, in the late '80s and early '90s, caffeine-free and clear variations of Tab were also released.

To find a suitable name for the drink, Coca-Cola's marketing research department used the IBM 1401 computer to generate a list of over 185,000 four-letter words with one vowel. They also added names suggested by the company's own staff. The list was stripped of any words deemed unpronounceable or similar to existing trademarks. From a final list of about twenty names, 'Tabb' was chosen. It was later shortened to Tab during development. It was designer Sid Dickens who gave the name to the capitalization pattern (TaB) used in the logo.

Tab Energy Drink (Getty Images)

Tab was reformulated several times. It was initially sweetened using cyclamate and, in 1969, the sweetener was changed to saccharin. At the height of its popularity, the Tab name was briefly extended to other diet soft drinks, including Tab Lemon-Lime, Tab Black Cherry, Tab Ginger Ale, Tab Root Beer and Tab Orange. Tab's popularity began to decline in 1982 with the introduction of Diet Coke. Another formula revision in 1984 blended saccharin with a small amount of aspartame; this was the formula that was last marketed in North America. Caffeine Free Tab was introduced in the 1980s with little fanfare, and disappeared soon afterward.

Tab was continued to be produced in the US, though in considerably smaller quantities. According to the company, three million cases of Tab were made in 2011 as it retained a cult following over the years. Other Tab variants included Tab Clear (first sold in the US, and later UK and Japan; discontinued within a year), Tab X-Tra (competed with Pepsi Max in Sweden and Finland; discontinued in both countries; sold exclusively in Norway where it originally launched), and Tab Energy (uses different recipe than the cola; was sold in Mexico, New Zealand and Spain as Tab Fabulous).

Twitter users reacted to the news of Tab's end, with many expressing surprise the drink was still around. One user jokingly wrote, "Coca Cola just announced it is going to discontinue their Tab cola brand. To be honest I thought they had stopped making it 40-50 years ago," while another, pointing out the reference to the beverage in the movie 'Back to the Future', tweeted, "My kids watched 'Back to the Future' this summer and *loved* it. Literally the only joke that fell entirely flat was Marty ordering a Tab. We had to pause and it took a surprising amount of time to explain the whole thing."

Another Twitter user said, "I don’t think many people will miss it. Most people under 30 have probably never even seen an actual can," while a Tab fan tweeted, "Hey gang, I'll make Tab from here on out for everybody now that Coca-Cola is done with it." There were other who were surprised as they tweeted: News Report: "Coca-Cola is discontinuing Tab after 60 years." Me: "Wtf Tab is still around???"